The press survived Obama’s persecution, and it will survive Trump’s mean words

The mainstream media’s takeaway from this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner was, apparently, that the First Amendment is under attack by President Trump. 
First Amendment pins were handed out to each guest of the event to make that point abundantly clear from the get-go while every speech that followed made the same point. 
{mosads}But here’s where it’s hard to square the point made by many journalists and pundits around the idea that the First Amendment is under attack by the administration.
White House Correspondents Association President Jeff Mason, also a Reuters reporter, acknowledged in a speech that press access has actually been good under the Trump administration, noting that daily press briefings still occur and journalists are still on Air Force One. 
But Mason then pivoted to the following perspective. 
“We cannot ignore the rhetoric that has been employed by the president about who we are and what we do,” he said. 
“An attack on any of us is an attack on all of us,” he added. “There are threats to press freedoms here in the United States. We must remain vigilant. The world is watching.”
Mason’s comments drew a rousing standing ovation. 
But is a sitting president’s criticism of the the press really a threat to the First Amendment when access and the ability to report has actually improved? 
White House press briefings are actually more open than ever before. Reporters outside the DC bubble are brought in over Skype. Press passes have been given to non-traditional conservative outlets. That could help to balance the White House press corps (a little bit), considering a recent survey’s finding that only three of 63 members are registered Republicans. 
In total, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s briefings last an average of 48 minutes. In his first 100 days, Spicer has taken 2,346 questions, according to a study by NBC News.
Regardless, we still see many members of a defiant, petulant media still actually believing they’re victims of the Meanie-in-Chief. And in the process, they have been equally as thin-skinned as the president and allowed their emotions to dictate how they do their jobs. (See: not objectively.)
Actions always speak louder than words in these situations. And while Trump’s attacks on the media are arguably beneath the presidency, that’s who he is and one of the reasons he got elected. 
Gallup’s most recent survey on media trust showed that 86 percent of Republicans don’t trust the media. O.K., that’s expected these days.
But when 70 percent of independents feels the same way, we’ve got a problem. Even about half of Democrats (49 percent) don’t trust what they’re reading and hearing.
Trump knows this. And one could even make the argument that traditional political media is more loathed by his base than political opponents Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi or Elizabeth Warren ever could be. 
Truth is, it was the actions of the Obama administration that should have been viewed as a threat to the First Amendment. 
Of course, President Obama was friendly, affable and lined up ideologically with most reporters, so they found it difficult to get too emotional when he stomped on press freedom. There were several egregious examples.
  • The Obama administration’s Justice Department spied on Fox News reporter James Rosen. The DOJ, led by Eric Holder, somehow labeled Rosen an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case, even went so far as to call him a flight risk. He thereby avoided the pesky need to inform him he was under surveillance. Of course, he was guilty of absolutely nothing. Holder would much later acknowledge regret over the Rosen subpoena. Thanks for playing.
  • The same DOJ seized two months of phone records from the Associated Press. Close your eyes for a moment and picture the reaction if Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been found to order the same action against the New York Times. If anything but the apocalypse comes to mind, you’re in a small minority.
  • The Obama administration rejected more Freedom of Information Act requests than any administration in history. That was after Obama promised the “most transparent” administration in history.
New York Times reporter James Risen summed it up well when he called the Obama administration “the most anti-press administration since the Nixon administration.”
“Over the past eight years, the administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistle-blowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined,” Risen wrote for The Times in a Dec. 30, 2016 column. “It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.”
But for the previous eight years of outright giddiness at the White House Correspondents Dinner, no First Amendment pins were handed out. No speeches were given about threats to press freedom. 
Actions always speak louder than words. 
Trump’s words about the press are highly critical and demeaning. No argument there. 
Many in the press take it personally and even conflate rhetoric — Trump’s free speech — as somehow endangering the First Amendment. Ah, the irony.
But Obama’s actions? They were downright scary.
Too bad almost nobody stood up to say anything about it, even though they had eight chances at eight dinners from 2009-16.
Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Chuck Schumer Elizabeth Warren Eric Holder Jeff Mason Jeff Sessions Joe Concha media WHCD White House Correspondents Association

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